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October 31, 2003

Sid Says: Let's Break Away from Granddaddy

John Siddall's first essay as editor of the American Magazine was an appeal for women's suffrage. He may have a had a personal reason for doing so--a Minnie Siddall from Ohio was an at-large member of the Ohio delegation to the Democratic National convention in 1924. Presumably she was a suffragette nine years before that---would she have had some influence on John's stance on the question? It's a rare surname. Give the relative closeness of Toledo, where Minnie hailed from, and Oberlin, where John was born, there would almost have to be some degree of kinship there.

But John would not have needed a suffragette relation to influence his take on the matter. He'd been affiliated with progressive causes for years.

John McAlpin Siddall was hired in 1903 by the muckraking journalist Ida Tarbell as a researcher for her expose on Standard Oil. He was working in Cleveland as an associate editor of The Chataquan magazine at the time, the publication that Tarbell helped to create and had written for 20 years earlier. He remained a protégé of hers for the rest of his life, following Tarbell first to McClure's magazine, then to the American Magazine. With her help he became editor of that magazine in 1915 and remained in that position until 1923, when I suspect he learned of the cancer that would kill him. He died that year.

Ida Tarbell said this about John Siddall in her autobiography, All In The Day's Work.

"I have never known any one in or out of the profession with his omnivorous curiosity about human beings and their ways. He had enormous admiration for achievement of any sort, the thing done whatever its nature or trend. His interest in humankind was not diluted by any desire to save the world. It included all men. He had a shrewd conviction that putting things down as they are did more to save the world than any crusade. His instincts were entirely healthy and decent. The magazine was bound to be what we call wholesome. Very quickly he put his impress on the new journal, made it a fine commercial success."

What intrigues me is that Siddall has the air of the lead character in a historical novel, a man who rubs shoulders with the famous but leaves no mark on history of his own. Due to his association with Tarbell, he would have been an intimate of the most famous turn of the century muckrakers, as they were dubbed by Theodore Roosevelt, and his 8 years at American Magazine would have put him in touch with almost an entire generation of American writers. His photo was taken by one of the most famous photographers of his day, Arnold Genthe, and an entire stanza of a poem was devoted to him by John Reed, a notorious radical poet and journalist, a personal friend of Lenin's, and subject of the 1981 Warren Beatty film Reds.

Comes SIDDALL with a cynic lip up-curled,--
SIDDALL, our dormer window on the World!
Kind-eyed behind his glasses, best of friends,
With the World's foibles at his finger-ends.
Roars out a jest, and praises with a damn,
And pricks our bubbles with an epigram;
SIDDALL, as sensible as he is keen,--
The high-brow low-brow of the Magazine;
"The SPORTING EDITOR has joined the bunch"
Cries he "Here's NORRIS, and it's time for lunch."

Yes, I know a little bit more about John Siddall today than I did yesterday. But that's almost everything that is known about him, and none of it is collected into one place. I seem to have become his biographer by default.

Let's Break Away from Granddaddy
By John M. Siddall
October, 1915

I am for woman suffrage, or almost any kind of suffrage. I would have just as many voters as possible. There are too few, rather than too many.

The whole human race is given over to the granddaddy theory: "Now just you leave everything to me. I know best, and I will decide. You are not smart enough, or you are a woman, or you are a foreigner, or you haven't had the experience. Anyway, I am your grandpa, and I know what is what and I will tell you what to do."

Everybody wants to do that. We all do: we all want to boss. We all want to keep other people from sharing authority with us. We all want fifty-one per cent of the stock. We want control.

And what is the result? The women and all the rest who do not enjoy the suffrage have an everlasting "alibi." They have an excuse. They would have done things differently if they had had the say. No, sir! I would give them all a chance—if for no other reason, just to find out for once how little the whole crowd, acting together, really knows. It might teach the human race a little humility. Out of the experience there might grow a more enlightened body politic. I would give the suffrage freely just as an educational aid. I would say: "There it is! Take it, if you want it. If you can do anything with it, all right. All the tools for your improvement in the world are at your disposal."

Frankly, I presume that an extended suffrage might mean a worse world for the time being. I have an idea that things might grow worse before they got better. But what of it? It seems to me that unless there is something inherently wrong in the ballot it is foolish to keep it away from this person and give it to that person. Why not give it to all who want it—who express a desire to use it? It seems to me that it comes right down to this point of the inherent right or wrong of it. If it is inherently right, a good thing in itself, how can you predict who will make the best use jof it? If it is aimed to benefit all those who are using it, why might it not benefit others?

In conclusion, let us refer to one other granddaddy idea: Granddaddies of all kinds have the notion that the young or the inexperienced or the minority
stockholder or the outsider is going to grab a new instrument for the purpose of killing himself. Ridiculous! The old forget the self-preserving instinct of the young. The young have no idea of destroying themselves. Of course they make mistakes, but on the whole they strive to improve themselves, to save their own skins. If the young were as untrustworthy with their own hides as some of their elders foolishly believe, Broadway would be strewn every morning with the dead bodies of young men and women who have come to the great city from the country.

But it isn't. And such an instrument as the ballot is not going to be used by women or by anybody else for purposes of general, or self, destruction. A greater danger lies in the possibility that the ballot will interest too few.

I should like to see the world really try sometime to find out what all the people can and will do. Everybody talks about democracy, but nobody wants to try it.


Next: This Is A Want Ad For A World-Beater

Posted by Bigwig at October 31, 2003 02:02 PM | TrackBack
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